As bodybuilding goals go, weight gain leads the pack as the top objective of most teenage and collegiate lifters. At a time in which abdominal six-packs and beach bodies are marketed as the ideal, the fitness and bodybuilding magazines seem to be forgetting that, before we can whittle away bodyfat, we need to fill out our skeletons with a certain level of muscle mass.
Otherwise, you’ll walk around looking as if your shirt is still on the hanger. The need to “take up as much space as possible” is a natural masculine aspiration. This article will help you pack on those much-needed pounds.
Weight gain is a subject that I have studied with great personal interest for the past two decades. I graduated from high school weighing a scrawny 126 pounds at a height of 5’10.” I recall one of my early goals was to make my arm at least as big as my elbow joint – the bony edges of which jutted out tauntingly, highlighting the emaciated biceps and triceps that hid above it.
Back when I started training, two-time Mr. Olympia, Franco Columbu was still a popular figure in the magazines. He was known for his thick chest that distinguished itself by the deep groove of separation between his upper and lower pectorals. I remember feeling a bit of pride because I had a similar groove of delineation in my chest. Looking back, I now realize that it was not separation of various muscle groups but rather simply my RIBS showing through!
From my initial 126 pounds, I gradually built myself up to a top weight (so far) of 204 pounds. Every ounce of weight I’ve gained has been a slow, uphill, tooth-and-nail battle. There were times in my teens in which I was convinced that there was something different, some inherent genetic flaw, which made it impossible for me to grow muscle, no matter how hard I tried. I may have quit lifting at this point, (and I’m sure this happens with a lot of rookie lifters that are dissatisfied with their early progress). In my case, I had already fallen in love with hardcore training. I loved the daily challenges of the gym; squaring off with a weight you’ve never been able to press before or repping out in squats until you’re on the floor in a gelatinous heap.
As the months went by, my 135-pound squat gave way to a 185-pound squat, which gave way to a 225-pound squat, and before I realized it I had a 405-pound squat and a larger-sized wardrobe. Its the gradual accumulation of these small increments in training poundage and bodyweight that, even if not noticeable at the time, eventually leads to impressive improvements.
This article is compiled from my own experience, feedback from people I have instructed, insights gained from research articles and practical strategies picked up from hundreds of athlete interviews I have done over the years. For those with whom weight gain is a problem, the guidelines in this article can help you initiate an unprecedented surge of growth. If you patiently and consistently follow my training and nutrition recommendations, I guarantee you can pack on enough powerful muscle size to scare small children and make jealous gym trainees accuse you of being a “juicer.”
Back in my day…
For those with a turbo-charged metabolism, adding even a pound of weight is a struggle. There were times were I felt my stomach was a bottomless pit and my metabolism just burnt off food before so much as an ounce reached my muscle tissue. My early college years were the late eighties (an era marked by bad music and even worse nutritional supplements). Weight gain products of this time were sugar-packed, low-quality, foul-tasting sludge with small quantities of low-quality protein added in almost as an after-thought. When my budget allowed me to afford one of these it became a test of wills to get through it – my burning desire to get big versus my gurgling digestive track that seemed unable to hold in the nasty shakes.
My eventual solution was the “classic approach” to weight gain – MILK! Gallons and gallons of cow juice! For a period of three years, I consumed at least a gallon of whole milk a day in addition to at least four to five meals. These were big meals. It was not unusual for me to eat a half a pan of lasagna or a pound and a half of hamburger at a sitting. I often would top this off with six yogurts or a quart of kefir (a yogurt-like beverage with active cultures that assist in health of the digestive tract). So fast was my metabolism that I finally noticed a positive boost in bodyweight by wrapping up my day with a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream before bed. Needless to say, consuming all that sugar and lactose gave me world-class flatulence. Thank God the nickname “Stinky Steve” didn’t stick with me!
My approach was one path for weight gain but certainly not the best. Thanks to improvements in food and supplementation, it’s a hell of a lot easier today.
Its All about Calories
Nowadays, when I advise young lifters how to pack on muscle, it seems that many of them think they are eating like a bodybuilder but, when I analyze their diet, I find it to be lacking in calories, protein and nutrients.
Let’s start by addressing calories. When someone talks about daily calorie intake, basically they are referring to the amount of energy they are taking in from protein, carbohydrates and fat sources. These calories provide the basic energy to “run” our bodies. Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is an approximate measure of the calories needed to keep our basic machinery running.
After this, additional calories are needed for walking, talking and the activities that are a part of your daily work, school or recreational life. It should go without saying that someone putting in long hard days as a lumberjack would burn more calories than someone with a part-time office job. Likewise, going out clubbing two or three nights a week uses up calories that could have been directed towards growth. Emotionally stressful situations, such as a divorce, legal hassles, financial problems or a new job further bumps up your calorie expenditure.
“Don’t run when you can walk; don’t stand when you can sit; and don’t sit when you can lie down.”
– Harry Paschall (weight training pioneer)
Unfortunately for bodybuilders, all of these needs MUST be met before the body will allocate the calories necessary for optimal muscle growth. This means that successful weight gain cannot be viewed as a “hit and miss” proposition. It requires a determined and consistent strategy.
So where do we start? Traditional thinking recommends spending a five to seven day period recording your normal calorie intake. As long as your bodyweight remained constant during this period, this can be considered your “daily maintenance level” of calories. This is one way to go, but I certainly don’t have the patience for it. That’s a week that could have been spent growing. Instead, I recommend just beginning at the level I will be suggesting below and making adjustments as one goes along.
A proven starting point is 20 calories per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 150-pound male would start out eating 3000 calories a day. To save you the annoying yet simple math, the chart below will help you determine your starting daily calorie level.
100 x 20 = 2000 calories a day
110 x 20 = 2200
120 x 20 = 2400
130 x 20 = 2600
140 x 20 = 2800
150 x 20 = 3000
160 x 20 = 3200
170 x 20 = 3400
180 x 20 = 3600
Because you plan to eat big, you need to break the daily intake up into 5-8 meals. Eating 3,000 calories broken into only three daily meals would leave you stuffed and bloated after each meal. In addition, you would not be able to utilize the nutrients nearly as well as if you ate smaller, more frequent meals.
After a week on this new caloric level, get on the scale and check to see if your weight has changed. (Always weigh yourself in the morning before a meal). If you have gained one to three pounds, continue at that level for another week and continue monitoring your progress. If you gained five or more pounds, then you can draw one of two conclusions; you were severely depleted and you really needed the higher calories to fill out your existing muscle, or the calorie level caused you to retain water or add a large amount of bodyfat. Its up to you to determine if this is a good thing or not.
If you have followed the starting calorie intake listed on the chart and have not seen an increase in your bodyweight in the first two weeks, jump up your daily calorie count by 200 grams. If, after a week’s time, this does not cause an increase, add another 200 grams. Get ready to throw away your baggy size-medium “Hard gainer” T-shirt.
Because of the basic laws of biology and math, you can be assured that eventually the scale will show improvements. Once you find this caloric level, continue to monitor your weight and bodyfat level. Keep in mind that the calories required to cause growth in a 150-pound body are probably not adequate to stimulate growth once you have reached 160-pounds. If you wish to continue your climb up the ladder of mass, you will once again need to increase your food intake.
“There is no overtraining; only undereating, undersleeping and lack of will”
Typically diets are designed by listing a precise ratio of protein, carbs and fat. On this eating program, since consuming a particular amount of protein at each meal is the primary concern, we will be dealing with serving sizes. Also, later in the article I will be detailing how to calculate your protein needs and distribute them across your day’s meals. This will be done under the umbrella of daily calorie intake. This will ensure you have the energy necessary for optimal growth.
Hopefully with the overwhelming amount of research and anecdotal evidence, as well as hundreds of protein articles, I shouldn’t have to convince you about the importance of protein for bodybuilding purposes. Show me a champion bodybuilder that got huge on a low protein intake, and I’ll show you a champion bodybuilder that could have been considerably bigger. Every meal you eat should be rich in protein. For a weight gain diet, I recommend a minimum of two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, with two-and-a-half grams per pound being the upper end of the scale. This should equal out to somewhere between 30-50% of your daily calorie intake. This can be acquired from eggs, beef, chicken, turkey and fish (as well as any meat you are able to catch and wrestle to the ground), and quality protein powders.
Fat intake should also be relatively high (at least 20-30% of caloric intake), as lipids promote general health and immune function as well as providing many of the necessary components for testosterone production.
Fats are a great, highly concentrated source of calories. As such, they are indispensable in a weight gain diet. Good sources of fat include olive and canola oils, nuts, flaxseed oil or special blended oils, peanut butter. As you will be eating a great deal of meat on this program you will also be taking in the naturally-occurring fat found in these products.
Of the three macronutrients carbohydrates are generally the most inexpensive and, therefore also the most abundant in our food supply. They provide quick and easy energy. The downside of this is that, depending on your sensitivity to carbs, too many carbs can lead to quick gains in bodyfat. Adjust your carbohydrate intake to allow for steady gains with acceptable increases in bodyfat.
Fiber is not normally mentioned in weight gain diets. High levels of fiber are generally a staple of fat loss programs, since fiber tends to be very filling without adding significant calories. A moderate amount of fiber is also essential for a weight gain program however. This is not JUST for general health. Fiber helps optimize the proper function of the digestive tract. As you will be processing grocery carts full of food, as well as bucket-loads of shakes, This will keep digestion at a high level. A serving of whole oats (not the over-processed packeted kind) with breakfast, a small salad at the end of one of your mid-day meals and a can of green beans or a large serving of steamed fibrous veggies with dinner should provide all you need. High intake of water is also important. A gallon a day (not counting what you use in your shakes) should keep you (and you toilet) well-flushed.
Second only to overall calorie intake, protein consumption should rank as a principal nutritional priority. To pack on muscle, you should eat a minimal of two grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Its even better to try to get in 2 1/2 grams per pound of bodyweight. Since some of you may have cheated your way through your math requirements, I will (once again), help you out with a chart.
Body weight 2 gr./pound 2 1/2 gr./pound
80 160 200
90 180 225
100 200 250
110 220 275
120 240 300
130 260 325
140 280 350
150 300 375
160 320 400
170 340 425
180 360 450
Let’s take our 150-pounder again. First, we multiply his 150-pound bodyweight by 20 (calories per pound of bodyweight) to get a daily calorie count of 3000 calories a day. As far as protein intake goes, our weight gain test pilot will be taking in 300 grams a day (2 grams per pound of bodyweight). This provides 1200 calories a day from protein alone.
Breaking-up Your Servings of Protein
While your top priorities are consuming enough calories to allow for growth and huge quantities of protein to provide muscle building raw materials, timing is also important. The following two charts list the protein breakdown of the seven meals you will be eating daily. That’s right! – seven meals. While this certainly won’t be easy, it is also not quite as hard as one might guess. Of the seven meals, two or three can be shakes and two can just be high-protein snacks. Make no doubt though that this program will involve (almost constant) regular feedings. The will be times that you dread the next meal. If this is something you cannot handle, maybe table tennis will be more your speed?
Because protein intake needs to be heavy around your workout, I have listed to separate schedule (one for those that train in the morning and one for those that train in the evening) as well as a schedule for non-training days. Adjust the times as necessary based on your school and work schedule.
Percentages refer to the amount of your daily protein taken in at the particular meal listed. A little later I will explain the rationale for these numbers.
Figure out your daily protein intake (see the chart above). Divide this into tenths. In our ongoing example of the 150-pounder, this gives us a 375-gram daily protein intake. Obviously this guy is anxious to be big since he decided to start at the higher of the two suggested protein levels.
From here, we divide this by ten and get 37.5 grams per serving, which we round up to an even 40 grams. (Always err on the side of extra protein.) For each of his meals listed at 10%, he consumes a 40-gram serving of protein. We double this to 80 grams for his breakfast, since it is listed as 20% of his daily intake. The post-workout shake (listed as a 25%) gets a whopping 100-gram serving.
This is an extremely comprehensive program. For most athletes it will be a sure-fire guarantee of growth IF stuck to consistently. There are always exceptions though. Either those whose metabolisms are so fast that they require even more than this or those that are so hungry to become big that they are anxious to take things to the next level. If you are among either of these groups you may want to add in an additional shake in the middle of the night. This of course, will require setting an alarm clock for the middle of the night, rolling over and chugging a pre-made shake, and then drifting by to dreamland. Hopefully you will be dreaming of pulling a monstrous deadlift.
During the workout, you will see an asterix listed in your protein percentage column. As another option, you may want to consider taking 15-25 grams of branched-chain amino acids capsules during your workout. This seems to improve energy levels and discourages the breakdown of muscle tissue during training. We won’t even bother to include this in your daily protein intake. Consider it just a useful extra if your finances allow.
Times are listed in military time. For example: three in the afternoon is listed as 15.00 (or 12 noon +3). Adjust these as needed to fit your lifestyle but try to keep them a stable as possible.
For those that train in the morning:
6:00 Breakfast/ Pre-training meal 20%
7:00 TRAINING *
8:30 Post-training shake 25%
9:30 Post-post-training meal 15%
12:30 Lunch 10%
3:00 Mid-day snack 10%
6:00 Dinner 10%
9:30 Before bed snack/shake 10%
(2:00 Mid-sleep shake – optional) –
For those that train in the afternoon:
6:00 Breakfast 20%
9:30 Mid-morning snack 10%
13:00 Lunch 10%
16:00 Pre-training meal 10%
17:00 TRAINING *
19:00 Post-training shake 25%
19:30 Post-post-training meal 15%
21:30 Before bed snack/shake 10%
(2:00 mid-sleep shake – optional)
6:00 Breakfast 20%
8:30 Mid-morning snack 10%
11:00 Lunch 10%
14:00 Mid-afternoon snack 10%
17:00 Dinner 15%
19:30 Evening snack 10%
22:00 Before bed shake 15%
(2:00 mid-sleep shake – optional) –
Those that are college students, can easily arrange to eat between classes. If you are working, you can take “just add water and shake” containers of protein powder or Tupperware containers of prepared food to work for your snack-breaks. Once you are living in a third-world country making clothes at one of Kathy Lee Gifford’s sweatshops, you should get a minimum of a fifteen-minute break for every two hours worked. If you have pre-prepared you meals, this should give you plenty of time to eat optimally.
“Weight-gainers can keep that 28-inch waist and still gain up to sixty pounds by eating small quantities of food five to six times daily, rather than stuffing themselves at one sitting.”
– Vince Gironda, Blueprint for the Bodybuilder
Meal Scheduling Rationale
Breakfast. Make it a point to eat immediately upon awakening. Your body has gone 7-10 hours without nutrients. Get used to preparing your food with blurry eyes and with a severe case of bed-head. Getting big isn’t always pretty. A good breakfast might be a protein shake (I recommend a mixture of casein and whey so that you get an immediate influx of amino acids as well as some sustained slow proteins), a serving of oatmeal (carbs and fiber), and eggs (more protein and fat).
Mid-morning and lunch time
Breakfast just helped to make up for what was lost in night-time muscle construction. Don’t blow-off this meal since it will help kick off today’s growth. You should be of the mindset that feeling hungry means you are losing muscle.
Pre-workout. Training has a profound effect on how our body makes use of calories. The physical demands of an intense workout allow your muscles to soak up nutrients like hungry sponges. This is an ideal time to dose up on protein. I recommend a big protein meal (50-60 grams) right before training. This can be a protein shake, an egg omelet or a big hunk of meat.
Post-workout. Post-workout is the most important time to make sure you get in your protein. I highly recommend you give yourself a huge, more than double-dose (60-85 grams) of protein, consisting mostly of fast proteins, such as whey. THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT SIMPLE THING YOU CAN DO TO ENSURE MAXIMAL MUSCLE GROWTH! Don’t waste your time with those ready-to drink protein shakes. At the best you will get 35-40 grams of protein per bottle. You would need to drink two of those for serious growth – and that will set you back about eight dollars. For a fraction of that, place two scoops of a meal replacement or protein blend into a Tupperware shaker cup with two scoops of a quality whey protein blend. Alternately, you can make a four-scoop shake with one or two of the scoops being a low-sugar weight gainer and the remainder being a quality whey protein. Glutamine makes a nice addition here. It is important that you drink your shake IMMEDIATELY at the end of your workout. Waiting twenty minutes until you get home would be wasting a growth opportunity.
Post-post-workout. After my post-workout protein shake, I generally drive home, shower and then immediately prepare a whole-food protein meal. For me, this is roughly an hour after my post-workout protein shake. This should provide you with a second surge of slow protein. Favorite choices of mine include steak and eggs, cottage cheese (a great source of casein), or some lean grilled hamburger.
Before Bed. Before going to bed at night is another crucial time to pound the protein. Obviously, since it will be a number of hours until you are able to feed your muscles, you want to give yourself a slow protein, either in the form of an egg white or milk protein/casein shake or whole foods. Adding some fats into your shake (in the form of added flax oil or half-and-half cream) will give you concentrated calories for growth.
Middle of the Night.
If you choose to try a middle of the night feeding, why mess around? Go for a big double-dose of protein with some fats (once again, flax oil or cream) added. Only those with extreme metabolisms need to add carbs at this meal as they may make it harder for you to get back to sleep. If you try a middle of the night shake and find that you are often unable to roll back into a restful snooze, abort your twilight shakes and just add in higher daily calorie and protein intake into your waking hours.
“I always fed on high-protein liquid foods during a workout, and large quantities of protein food immediately afterwards in an attempt to match the food intake to the peak demand periods of the body.”
-Michael J. Salvati, The Production of Muscular Bulk
Protein was mentioned above since it forms the foundation of a bodybuilding diet. At least 85% of your supplement expense should be proteins. Most of this should be protein blends for shakes with possibly some for liver and amino sources. The balance should just be spent on items to reinforce general health, such as vitamins, minerals, or flax oil.
Avoid meal-replacement products like Met-Rx and EAS’s Myoplex. These MRPs contain fillers and thickening agents, which are very filling. These products are designed for the fat-loss market. Those trying to knock back big calories and huge doses of protein would be wise to steer clear of them. While whey protein is an excellent choice pre- and post-workout (since it gets into the system quickly), it tends to make one feel full. While this is great when trying to stay lean, those trying to pack muscle onto a turbo-charged metabolism would be better suited with a casein-based protein. Ideally, choose a quality casein powder and a whey or whey/casein blend so that you can design shakes that fit your needs for the particular time of the day.
Avoid fad products. In particular, avoid wasting your money on products like pro-hormones, GH secretagogues, myostatin inhibitors, and the like. Even if the companies selling these products show convincing research or list impressive increases in hormone levels from studies done on their products, this DOES NOT necessarily directly relate to an increase in muscle size. As a teenager, your metabolism is hormonally-stoked for growth. The addition of a dozen Andro-Maxx 3000 caps a day will only be the equivalent of spitting into the ocean. Your money is better spent on boosting your daily gram intake of protein.
As I mentioned earlier, the ready-to-drink shakes are a waste of money. Ditto for protein bars. These are strictly for the tourists. Hardcore lifters know that they can not only get more bang for their buck with
protein powders, but they can “custom mix” them to fit their individual needs.
Top Six for Size
So what supplements should make up a young lifter’s weight-gain arsenal? I’ve summarized the top six below:
- 1. Whey Protein. Whey protein is commonly referred to as a “fast protein” because it is absorbed quickly. Look for a whey protein blend that contains high quantities of whey protein isolates (since the cheaper whey concentrates are not as well absorbed). The best whey proteins also include significant amounts of whey protein hydrolysates. These are proteins that are “pre-digested” for easier absorption. Whey proteins tend to cause a feeling of satiety (fullness) so should only be used before, during and after a workout.
- 2. Casein Protein/ Milk Protein or Egg White Protein. Casein is a “slow protein,” which means it is broken down slowly, which provides the body with a sustained source of amino acids for growth. Mixed with a whey blend, you have a phenomenal product. Because of its “sustained-release” quality, casein is a great before bed or “middle-of the night” shake protein. Egg White Protein powder is also a moderately “slow protein” and is a useful addition because its high content of sulfur-producing amino acids help optimize your body’s production of anabolic hormones.
- 3. Quality Weight Gainer. The quality of these products varies widely. Because supplement companies in the past were involved in “calorie wars” with their weight gain powders, the “calories per serving” count escalated out of control, with no consideration of nutrient quality in their formulations. Check out the amount of sugars listed in the nutrition information. If a significant number of the calories are coming from simple sugars, you might be better of with a pint of ice cream. With any weight gain product, I recommend you customize your serving by add an additional scoop or two of whey, egg white or milk/casein protein to transform it into a “super-shake.” This allows you to add in extra glutamine, waxy maize or creatine as you see fit.
- 4. Multi-vitamins. If you are not healthy, you aren’t going to grow. “Sick time” translates into missed workouts and lost growth opportunities. For general health reasons, as well as providing the basic vitamin and mineral needs for maximal growth, the inclusion of a comprehensive vitamin./mineral formula is a “no-brainer.” Those top four are essentials. The following two products are “highly-recommended” if your budget permits:
- 5. Healthy Fats. Essential fatty acids provide extra calories while gearing the body towards the acquisition of muscle while discouraging storage as bodyfat. Take a fish oil product (3-5 grams two to four times a day) and use Macadamia Nut Oil for cooking or with salads and veggies.
- 6. Glutamine Powder. This cell-volumizing amino acid is also a potent muscle-builder. A healthy five to ten-gram dose once or twice a day will reinforce your immune system and dramatically decrease muscle breakdown
The Leaky Bucket
Understanding the Energy Dynamics of Weight Gain
One of my favorite analogies for weight gain comes from a close friend of mine, who is a professor of exercise physiology. As he stole the analogy from someone else, I will, in turn, continue the cycle of larceny and use it for my own purposes.
(In my best Forrest Gump impression:) “Getting’ big is like a leaky bucket.” Protein, carbohydrates and fat provide calories, represented in this example as the water, which we need to dump into the top of the bucket in order to fill it up. The caloric needs of our metabolism (BMR), represents a dozen or so small pen-sized holes along the bottom half of the bucket. Energy expended at work and play adds three to eight more holes. Our level of emotional stress can add three to six more leaky holes. The quality of your night’s sleep can either add or plug two or three more of the holes.
In order to best fill the bucket (get big), there are two approaches. We can dump in more water (take in more food) or we can plug more holes (by getting more sleep, relaxing more and controlling stress). The slow gains or losses in water level depend on your ability to either increase input or control leakage.
Successful bodybuilders realize that to gain the maximum amount of muscle, one must both increase incoming flow (nutrients) while decreasing loss. This 24-hour struggle epitomizes the bodybuilding lifestyle. For this reason unfailing dedication and consistency pay off in big gains. Be conscious of the concepts of energy dynamics and you will be upgrading to a larger bucket
Typical Estimated Servings of Protein
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 3 oz.
Egg whites, 7 large
Eggs, 2 whole large eggs plus 4 whites
Egg Beaters, 1 cup
chicken breast, skinless, boneless
Tuna, canned, 4 oz.
Shake: roughly 1 scoop protein powder
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 4 oz.
Ground beef, 6 oz.
Egg whites, 9 large
Eggs, 2 whole large eggs plus 5 whites
Tuna or salmon (canned), 1/2 cup, drained
Bass, carp, cod or roughie filet, 6 oz.
Crabmeat, 1-1/2 cup
Cashews, 6 oz.
Cottage cheese, 1 cup
Ground turkey breast, 4 oz.
Ground beef, 7 oz.
Ground turkey breast, 5 oz.
Eggs, 2 whole large eggs plus 6 whites
Eggs, 3 whole large eggs plus 4 whites
Peanuts 5 oz.
Ground beef, 8 oz.
Ground turkey breast, 6 oz.
Eggs, 2 whole large eggs plus 7 whites
Eggs, 3 whole large eggs plus 6 whites
Chicken or turkey, 1 cup diced
Ground chicken, 8 oz.
Tuna, canned, 6 oz.
Bass, carp, cod or roughie filet, 8 oz.
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 6 oz.
Ground beef, 9 oz.
Eggs, 3 whole large eggs plus 7 whites
Eggs, 4 whole large eggs plus 6 whites
Bass, carp, cod or roughie filet, 8 oz.
Protein shake, roughly 2 scoops of protein powder
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 5 oz.
Ground beef, 10 oz.
Ground turkey breast, 7 oz.
Eggs, 3 whole large eggs plus 9 whites
Eggs, 4 whole large eggs plus 7 whites
Eggs, 5 whole large eggs plus 5 whites
Tuna, canned, 8 oz.
Ground beef, 11 oz.
Eggs, 3 whole large eggs plus 10 whites
Eggs, 4 whole large eggs plus 9 whites
Eggs, 5 whole large eggs plus 7 whites
Ground turkey breast, 8 oz.
Protein shake, roughly 2 scoops protein powder, mixed in nonfat milk
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 8 oz.
Ground beef, 12 oz.
Eggs, 4 whole large eggs plus 10 whites
Eggs, 5 whole large eggs plus 8 whites
Eggs, 6 whole large eggs plus 6 whites
Bass, carp, cod or roughie filet, 12 oz.
T-bone, sirloin or porterhouse steak, 8 oz.
Ground turkey breast, 9 oz.
Protein shake, roughly 3 scoops of protein powder
Following is a four-day a week training program that will pack muscle on the most-stubborn frame – provided you consume the needed protein and calories and get adequate rest. (See part one of this feature: Teenage Weight Gain: The Art of Eating Big). The routines seem basic and uncomplicated but are guaranteed to kick your butt.
In another article I have written, but which is in the process of being published, I quote noted Soviet strength specialist Vladimir Zatsiorsky as he explains how one should train to increase muscle size. In, Science and Practice of Strength Training, Zatsiorsky states that, “The main objective of such a training routine is the maximal activation of protein catabolism (breakdown of muscle proteins), which in turn stimulates the synthesis of contractile proteins during rest periods.” This simple, yet profound, statement so concisely describes the process of bodybuilding that it might very well be worked into EVERY future training article I write.
To maximally encourage protein breakdown, rep ranges between five and twelve are utilized with relatively short rest periods. For most exercises, this will be sixty seconds between sets. Sets of deadlifts and squats in which reps are higher than eight per set may require longer rest periods due to the fact that such large muscle groups may cause one to go into a temporary state of oxygen debt (a need to catch one’s breath). Once breathing and heart rate have returned to an acceptable (only slightly elevated) level, one may continue. Once one becomes conditioned to these short rest periods, there should be no loss in exercise poundages. Real world experience in the gym confirms the effectiveness of this strategy
For the younger and underweight (and presumable somewhat novice) lifter, there are also other considerations. First of all, these athletes also need to develop a base of general strength. This involves a variety of exercises to balance strength among various muscle groups with an emphasis on the “core muscles” of the abdomen, lower back and hip areas which act as stabilizers.
Secondly, younger lifters also may not have developed the ability to withstand grueling training sessions. For this reason, the use of compound exercises involving large muscle complexes (in this case, high rep deadlifts) is employed. In addition to improving a lifter’s general conditioning, these build “mental toughness” and MAY even sprout a little hair on your chest! Similar to the high-rep squatting which has been a popular method for weight gain, high-rep deadlifts, are so taxing that they have a noticeable effect on appetite and muscle growth.
In each workout, there is one exercise marked by an asterix (*). That is the KEY movement of that workout and the exercise that your efforts should be aggressively directed towards. Your primary workout goal should be to make some improvement in these key lifts on a consistent basis.
You will also notice the workouts are split, with “Phase One” sets and reps in the first column and “Phase Two” additions listed in a second column. One should consistently follow this program for at least four weeks, and made a gain of at least ten pounds in bodyweight, before considering the jump to “Phase Two.” The additional workload is necessary for continued progress but SHOULD NOT be attempted before the athlete is ready.
Once you are ready to add the sets, be cautious of shakiness and hand tremors toward the end of a workout. These could be signs that your nervous system was not quite ready for the increase in volume. If this happens, take a week off training before returning to the original set scheme. Also, honestly reassess whether you are giving your body the nutrients and rest it needs for growth.
“Of course, if the lifter does not lift heavily, the forced feeding will not show proper muscular results; the result will be too much excess fat.”
– Bill Seno (world champion powerlifter), Pushing for Power
1. Seated Calf
2. Full Squat *
3. Frog Leg Press
4. Push Press
5. Seated DB Press
4 x 10-15
4 x 12/9/6/3
2 x 8-12
warm-up, then 3 x 5
1 x 8-12
(add one set)
(add two sets of 8 reps after heavy set)
(add one set)
(add a second set)
If you want to get big, learn to LOVE squats. Squats separate the bodybuilders from those that just want to look good in a T-shirt. Everyone starts out struggling with unimpressive squat poundages but, if given consistent attention, you’ll eventually built to squat weights that earn the respect of the veterans in the gym. Note that it says “FULL squat.” Start out from day one learning to lower down as deeply as possible. Deep squatting is the common denominator in the biggest and most thickly developed lifters.
On the full squat, we will be pyramiding the weights. Begin with a warm-up set with just the bar and possibly a second warm-up with a little more weight, if you feel you need it. The first “work set” consists of a relatively easy dozen reps. Increase the weight slightly to a weight in which you are able to do nine reps. Then increase the weight on your next set, to a poundage in which you can do a hard but still strict six reps. Your POWER SET will be a heavy triple. If you have been lifting for less than six months, stop here (at the novice workout). Those who have trained longer and have met the requirements for Phase Two can add two additional work sets of eight reps.
The Frog Leg Press is done with feet spread slightly wider than shoulder width and pointed outward. The weight carriage is brought down deep with your knees going out to the sides of your ribcage. It can be done on a 45-degree or vertical leg press machine.
The Push Press is a standing military press with a slight cheat to allow for use of heavier weights. The bar is pressed from the upper chest to an “arms-extended-overhead” position. A slight (about 2-inch) dip in the knees will allow you to drive the weight overhead powerfully. I recommend placing one foot about 4-5 inches further forward than the other (alternating the lead leg each set) as the increased stability will translate to a stronger press. Make sure you perform one or two light warm-up sets so that the delicate shoulder joint isn’t expected to move heavy weights before it is ready.
We finish off with a very strict overhead press with dumbbells, using higher reps for one or two sets. Because it is done seated and with dumbbells, this exercise is performed strictly and requires more coordination (balance) which causes greater activation of muscle fibers.
1. Ab Bicycling
2. Incline DB Press *
3. Pec Dips
4. Floor DB Triceps Extensions
5. Close-grip Bench
6. Wrist Curl
2 x 60 seconds
warm-up, then 3 x 8-12
2 x max
3 x 6-10
2 x 8-12
3 x 10-15
(add a heavy set of 4-6 reps)
(add a set)
This workout focuses on chest and triceps (pushing muscles of the upper body) with some work for forearms and abs. Ab work is important because it balances the lower back and hip exercises we do in order to build “core strength.” Core strength involves strengthening the muscle of the midsection and hips used to balance the torso, which allows for overall body power. If you blow-off ab work, you limit your progress.
Ab Bicycling is done by starting in a crunch position and alternately lifting first the left, then the right knee toward your head in a pedaling motion while slightly lifting the opposite shoulder from the mat. In addition to the abs this exercise activates the obliques.
Incline Dumbell Presses emphasize a deep pectoral stretch at the bottom and should be done on a low incline (about 25-30 degrees). Pec Dips should also emphasize the stretch position, only lifting up about 2/3 of the way to full arm lock-out (since the last portion of this movement is mostly triceps). These should be done with the torso bent forward (like the contracted position of a crunch), with your chin down toward your chest, elbows spread wide out to the sides, and feet forward under the face.
Floor Dumbell Triceps Extensions are done lying on the floor with two dumbbells extended overhead. The weights are lowered to either side if your head, being careful to keep the upper arms perpendicular to the ground and stationary throughout the set. Close-grip Benches are done with a grip about 6-8 inches between your thumbs. Your arms should stay in towards your torso and the bar is lowered to the mid- to upper pecs. Forcibly contract the triceps at the top.
1. Standing Calf
2. Deadlift Shrug *
3. Leg Curl
4. Glute/Ham Raise
4 x 10-15
2 warm-ups then, 3 x 12
2 x 12
3 x 8-12
add a set
add a set
We’re training the “posterior chain” in this workout. The posterior chain is aptly named because it includes the lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings and calves – the large collection of interrelated muscles that make up about a third of your muscle mass and establishes your base of power. The major muscles of this group cross over more than one joint and rarely work without assistance from neighboring muscle groups. Like the squat workout, this session is short in order to allow you to go in there and hit it hard. Once you leave the gym you should be tired and insatiably hungry. Pound a double dose of protein and watch yourself grow!
Deadlift Shrugs are quite simply a traditional deadlift in which the rep is completed by a strong shrugging of the shoulder girdle by the trapezius muscles. The one difference we will be making from a powerlifting deadlift is the use of wrist straps on heavier sets since we will need to be holding onto the bar for a dozen reps. Use of straps will also allow us to use a double-overhand grip.
The Glute/Ham Raise is done on a special piece of equipment which looks like a hyperextension bench with a large curved hip pad on it. The foot rollers should be adjusted so that they close enough to the hip pad to allow you to lift your body by allowing your knees to drop, with the pull coming from your hamstrings. This targets that muscle group better than any leg curl EVER could. If you do not have access to a glute-ham raise bench, substitute either Reverse or regular Hyperextensions.
1. Lying Leg Raise
2. Cable Ab Crunch
3. Front Lat Pulldown
4. Under-grip Barbell Row *
5. Alternate Dumbell Curl
6. Hammer-grip Dumbell Curl
2 x 15
2 x 8-12
3 x 8-12
3 x 6-10
3 x 8-12
2 x 8-12
(add a set)
(add a set)
This workout will seriously work your upper back, biceps and abs. Cable Ab Crunches are done kneeling in front of a triceps pushdown station, holding a “rope handle.” From a kneeling upright position, curl your torso down to a strong ab contraction. Both the pulldown and rowing exercises for your back cause a greater growth response when there is a strong two-second pause in the contracted position. In the Front Pulldown, this is when the bar is pulled down to the collarbone. In the barbell row, this takes place when the bar is pulled in to your belly-button area and your shoulder blades are squeezed inward. Don’t worry about using heavy weights for your Dumbell Curls. Your biceps have been hit with heavy resistance during your back exercises. Concentrate on good form and resisting the weight on the negative. This will cause biceps soreness (and growth) in the days to follow.
There is your complete diet and training program. All that is left is for you to put it into practice. Be consistent, train hard, eat as often and well and YOU WILL GROW! Good luck!
On the Trail of the Elusive “Hardgainer”
I’ve known dozens of lifters that refer to them selves as “hardgainers.” At least a hundred articles in major muscle magazines have been directed towards this group. In fact, an entire newsletter/magazine has been published just for people that consider themselves “hard-gainers.”
“Hardgainers” refer to someone who feels that they have a genetic disadvantage for muscle-building. This very term is one of the most self-destructive concepts in our sport. I do not argue that the genetic predisposition for strength and muscle size varies widely within our population. In fact, when it comes to picking my spot on the bodybuilding genetics “bell curve” I admit to being on the lower end of the scale. But anyone calling themselves a “hard-gainer” might as well throw in the towel!
Nine out of ten of us have to struggle to put on muscle. Even the genetically-advantaged one-percent struggles with growth plateaus in which their size and strength come to a standstill for weeks or months at a time. We cannot all be Mr. Olympias or world powerlifting champions but each one of us can make amazing increases in muscle size and strength. If, like me, you have been in the sport for a couple decades, you will have met hundreds of lifters with average genetics have accomplished amazing things. Claiming that you are a hard-gainer is a coward’s excuse.
If you are eating and training correctly, you WILL grow. It’s all a matter of doing what is required for that growth. Will you eat six big protein-rich meals a day if that’s what it takes to grow? What about ten meals a day? Will you squat deep with enough weight bouncing around on your back to give you three days’ worth of deep muscle soreness? Will you lock out that “personal best” deadlift even though you can feel the knurling of the bar tearing a thick callous from the palm of your hand? Can you do without that weekend getaway or big screen TV because you know you’d be better off directing your finances towards solid nutrition? Will you drag yourself out of bed at 5:00 AM to train before work, if that’s what it takes? When you have hit a plateau where your weights seem to have all stalled and a glance in the mirror seems to only show flaws, will you reassert yourself towards your goals or will you take the day off and plop yourself down in front of the television?
If you cannot answer a resounding “yes!” to each of these questions, then instead of being a “hardgainer” perhaps you are just weak-willed?
After reading this article, “not knowing how” will no longer be an excuse. You WILL grow. You merely have to give it time for the ounces to add up to pounds. Decide if you really want to make your bodybuilding dreams a reality and, even more importantly, if you are ready to pay the price to make them happen. Bodybuilding is not a battle of degrees. Half efforts do not ensure half gains. Its more likely that giving it 50% will net you a whopping 0% return. Don’t chalk up non-existent gains to being a “hardgainer.” Commit yourself to giving everything it takes to reach your individual potential
“Old School” Bulking
There are two schools of thought, as far as weight gain. The most popular currently is to gain weight at a slow rate, keeping bodyfat levels in a certain acceptable range. The thinking here is that if one allows oneself to gain too much bodyfat, the extreme dieting needed to strip away that flab will cause the loss of whatever muscle was gained in the bulk-up period. A number of case studies have shown this to be true.
From a health and social standpoint, this is also a sound strategy. Excessive bodyfat obviously puts a great deal of strain on the body. Cardiovascular health is severely compromised and day-to-day functioning (such as jogging up a flight of stairs without becoming severely winded) is impaired. Your age, personal and familial health history (heart attacks, strokes, blot clots, diabetes, etc.) and current condition must be seriously scrutinized before beginning a bulking regimen.
Socially, the extreme bulking philosophy can be limiting as well. In a society which prizes lean, muscular “fitness model” physiques, your bulked-up frame will often earn negative comments. Even those in the gym will question your strategy. For social reasons this isn’t for the guy training to impress the girls (but then none of my articles will be aimed at this halfhearted audience).
The “old school” strategy entails getting as big as humanly possible. This involves gaining huge amounts of bodyfat and water weight. You may even gain up to two pounds of flab for every pound of muscle. The heavy calorie intake while increase your insulin output, which means you will be in storage mode, with amino acids and glycogen being driven into muscle tissues. Therefore, your recovery from training will be at a high level, making over-training less likely. Unfortunately, you will also be adding to fat storage. On the positive side, the added bodyweight translates to improved leverage and therefore HUGE increases in strength. It also means that your body will be constantly super-saturated with raw materials for building muscle.
A well-known proponent of this technique is 1959 NABBA Mr. Universe Bruce Randall. At a height of 6’1,” Randall bulked up to a monstrous 401 pounds. During his bulking period, his strength climbed in proportion to his bodyweight. He was known for performing a 680-pound squat, half-squats with well over 2100 pounds on his shoulders, a 340-pound cheat curl, a 771 deadlift and good mornings with an amazing 685 pounds! After carrying around elevated bodyweight, he dieted away the excess bodyfat to win the NABBA Universe at a lean 220 pounds.
Anther example of an athlete benefiting from “old school” bulking is powerlifting legend Pat Casey. Casey was the first man to bench 600 pounds. Even more impressively, his lifting career was in 1967, long before the triple-ply steel-belted heavy duty bench shirts that add an easy 90-pounds on an elite lifter’s bench. It is highly likely that his bench press records would still be standing if modern lifters did not resort these support devices. In later years, he whittled his bodyweight back down to a healthier 225 and trained on a higher-rep program aimed at health and longevity.
An excellent modern-day example of “old school” bulking is current IFBB pro and overall loudmouth, King Kamali. At the 1997 Collegiate Nationals in Pittsburgh, Kamali was in the audience weighing what I would guess to be creeping towards 300 pounds. He had won the overall at the Collegiates three years earlier, as a light-heavyweight. I had seen contest photos of him in NPC News and the walking doughnut I saw sitting near me barely caused a glimmer of recognition. He was fat, bloated and looked more like a sumo wrestler than a bodybuilder.
Over a year later, I saw Kamali attending another show and he was still carrying plenty of deadweight. The general consensus was that his bodybuilding career was over and he would most likely end up as a bouncer at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
History tells us that King Kamali shed the fat a few years later, to win the 1999 Nationals as a heavyweight. Not only did he display a much bigger, vastly improved pro-level physique, but he had caused quite a buzz over for his ripped condition. Its doubtful that he would have made the impressive gains displayed had he not spent a couple years eating big.
Dorian Yates is another athlete that spends a majority of his training year, bulked up. He is also known for being one of the few top bodybuilders to consistently gain significant muscle mass at an advanced stage of his career. Also note that tossing around huge training weights is also something of a Yates trademark. Obviously, the improved leverage advantages that come with heavier bodyweight lead to huge gains in strength, which in effect, lead to muscle growth.
So why did “old school bulking” work for Kamali and Yates while other bodybuilders felt the experiment ended with no net gain in muscle after the extra bodyfat was stripped away? Quite simple. Rather than bulking up just to whittle down, Kamali (and the old school disciples of bulk) got big and STAYED THAT WAY! It wasn’t a month of extra weight set off by a big Thanksgiving dinner and wrapped up before Easter came around, it was YEARS of eating big, training big and letting their bodies adjust to a new bodyweight.
So which route of weight gain is best – gradual lean muscle gain or “old school” bulking? Both methods of weight gain work. Decide for yourself which route is for you based on your goals. If you decide to bulk-up, it has to be a serious decision, with a full understanding of the sacrifices involved.
Once you’ve chosen your strategy, the information in the “Art of Eating Big” portion of this feature applies to both strategies. For bulking, you will simply continue to gradually increase your calorie levels to keep your bodyweight increasing. Make sure that you are pushing your gym poundages hard, especially in the big power movements, in order to take advantage of your improved leverage and maximize muscle growth. Continue to increase your protein level (at a minimum of two-grams per pound of bodyweight) as your weight climbs. Carbs and fats should be consumed liberally to fulfill the rest of your increasing calorie levels.
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